10 Women Rising in Gaming
Kelci Skye Binau
Current company and role: Gaming Law Attorney; McDonald Carano LLP (“McDonald Carano”)
Hometown: Reno, Nevada
First job in the gaming industry: The first time I thought about becoming an attorney was in middle school. I liked to argue, and my parents told me I should go to law school. My parents are computer programmers, and at that time, my dad worked at IGT. When I graduated from high school, I was lucky enough to get a paid internship in the legal department at IGT. I continued working there into my second year of college until I studied abroad in Reading, England. After graduating from law school, I joined the Nevada-based law firm McDonald Carano, and reentered the gaming industry when I became part of the firm’s Gaming Law practice group.
Did you apply for work in other industries? Do you think it was easier to find a job in gaming than other career paths?
Shortly before I graduated from law school, I interviewed with two law firms in Reno. Staying true to my Nevada roots, I wanted to live and build my career in Reno. I ultimately chose McDonald Carano because the firm was founded in Reno, and has influenced Nevada’s legal, business and government landscape since 1949. During my interviews, I noted that many attorneys and staff started their careers at McDonald Carano and never left; I wanted to join the McDonald Carano family. When I first started at McDonald Carano, my career as an attorney began in land use and corporate law. About a year into my practice, A.J. “Bud” Hicks, the Chair of the Gaming Law practice group, asked me if I would be interested in trying out gaming law. Shortly thereafter, I changed the direction of my career, reentered the gaming space, and never looked back. I do not necessarily believe it is easier to find a job in gaming than other industries; both times I entered the space it was by word of mouth and knowing people in the industry.
What do you like about working in gaming?
As a gaming law attorney, I enjoy navigating the complex, intertwined, and overlapping patchwork of local, state, and federal laws and regulations. I like studying clients’ inquiries and issues, developing creative avenues to apply applicable laws and helping clients understand and comply with regulations. Gaming law presents great opportunities to help clients find practical ways to align their business strategies within the framework of a highly regulated industry. While the regulatory environment often seems slow to catch up with technology and innovation, each day brings exciting new developments and unexpected challenges. I also like that the gaming industry is small and intimate. Seeing familiar faces at gaming conferences and events helps me build relationships across the U.S. and around the world so I can further support clients with interests in many jurisdictions. Finally, in addition to my amazing mentors and clients, I love the community I have found within the Global Gaming Women organization (“GGW”). GGW provides a strong platform for me and many women to assist with and ensure success in the historically male-dominated gaming industry. By providing guidance, sharing experiences, and including me as a member of the team, my mentors and GGW have inspired me to “pass it on” by mentoring people who are interested in law school or the gaming industry, and serving on GGW’s marketing committee and Lean-In Circle program. I am honored to be able to give back to GGW in my upcoming role as an officer and general counsel of the organization.
Did anything surprise you about the industry when you first started?
When I first joined the Gaming Law practice group at McDonald Carano, I did not completely understand the vast number of, and different types of, businesses involved in the gaming industry. However, as I enter my sixth year of practice, I have had the great opportunity to represent owners and operators of casinos, online/mobile daily fantasy and sports wagering operators, manufacturers/distributors of gaming equipment and software, slot route operators, service providers and sweepstakes/promotion/contest hosts. I was also happily surprised to learn that gaming, an enormous multibillion-dollar global industry with thousands of existing and emerging businesses, is a small, tight knit and welcoming community.
Were you familiar with gambling before landing a job in the industry? What were your thoughts about it before starting to work in gaming? Has your impression of the industry changed at all?
Growing up in Reno, I went to buffets and shows, and saw the casinos lit up at night, but I was too young to understand that gaming was more than “entertainment” – it was a “business” with great career potential. Likewise, aside from my dad’s stories about the programming of gaming machines, their creative designs, and cool images, I knew very little about the industry. My impressions have certainly changed. I now appreciate the sheer global economic impact of the industry and the extraordinary sophistication of the leaders in this field. It is humbling and I am honored to be part of the gaming industry.
Can you envision making a career in the gaming industry? What are your long-term goals?
Absolutely, yes! I consistently thank and tell my mentors that I found my niche in gaming law. My mentors, Bud Hicks, A.G. Burnett, Greg Giordano and Dennis Gutwald, have successful decades-long careers in the gaming industry, including regulatory roles before joining McDonald Carano. By sharing their unique experiences as government agency regulators, I have gained an invaluable understanding and appreciation for the regulatory process and the skills needed to collaboratively work with regulators and agents on behalf of clients. Through them, I see what is possible and it confirms my determination and excitement for my career and future in the gaming industry. As an extrovert and people person, a career in gaming law has been a great fit because it allows me to work closely with clients, agents and regulators, and gaming applicants as we navigate the licensing process, together. My long-term goals are to help advance McDonald Carano’s Gaming Law practice into the future, expand my knowledge and experience in all sectors of the gaming industry, and build a client base that grows my practice and supports me on my path toward becoming a Partner at McDonald Carano. The best part about the gaming industry is that career possibilities are endless!